Crystal Bridges Collection Takes Turn Toward the Modern

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jul. 12, 2010 12:00 am  

"The dealer that represents Walton I think is very conscientious about where those works end up," Bacigalupi said. "It wasn't that the work was a gift or a loan to us. We purchased it. But I think it was very important to the artist and to the dealer to ensure that that work was going to an important collection where it would be seen and enjoyed by a number of people and also that it would live in that collection forever."

Asked about earlier published criticism of Walton as a sort of cultural pirate spiriting away masterworks to be displayed in the hinterlands, Wilmerding chuckled.

"The overriding answer to all of that is that she's saving most of these works for the public domain," he said. "She has competition from [Bill] Gates and there are major private collectors in Texas and there are others. There's a whole new ballgame of competition - auction and otherwise - from the Europeans, Eastern Europeans, even the Russians, so she doesn't get everything.

"There are many cases where she has lost pictures to other private collectors, and there's no assurance that those works are going to be out in the open someday," he said. "She's buying for the public good. That's the bottom line. Period."


The Reveal

Wilmerding said that when the museum opens it will rank at least in the top half dozen of American art museums, maybe higher.

"Its quality and its range and depth already place it among one of the very best," he said. "It's going to have to be by definition a major destination museum."

In addition, he said, Crystal Bridges will be one of only a handful of museums "devoted to the entire history of American art."

The museum doesn't discuss prices paid for artwork. But its 2008 IRS Form 990-PF, the latest available, notes $43.6 million in "art acquisitions" during 2008. The 2007 form lists $81.9 million in art acquisitions and the 2006 form puts the figure at $97.3 million. Totaled, that's at least $222.8 million worth of art.

The opening of Crystal Bridges, Bacigalupi said, will be "a real watershed moment in American museums and in the history of American art."




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